Mindfulness Training with Children on the Autism Spectrum: A Pilot Study Evaluating the Impact of Mindfulness on Social and Cognitive Outcomes

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
A. Sande1, D. Gagnon1 and J. M. Montgomery2, (1)University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, (2)Psychology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, CANADA
Background:  People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face difficulties with social and emotional skills, including troubles understanding and managing emotions and succeeding in social interactions (Bellini, Peters, Benner, & Hopf, 2007). Many different interventions have been designed to improve social, emotional, and adaptive outcomes for people with ASD; however many of these programs do not create long lasting or generalizable change (Bellini et al. 2007). Mindfulness-based interventions aim to increase self-awareness and self-management skills. These therapies are growing in popularity and have shown positive results for improving social skills and executive functioning (higher-order thinking processes), and decreasing problem behaviours (Beauchemin, Hutchins, & Patterson, 2008; Khoury et al. 2013) in both typical and clinical populations. Since mindfulness has only recently emerged as a therapy for ASD, existing research is limited to evaluating adolescents and adults with ASD and typical children, rather than directly investigating approaches for children with ASD directly.

Objectives:  To evaluate the effectiveness of Paws b, a recently developed mindfulness program (MiSP, 2015) specifically for children ages 7-11 years, to improve social skills, self-concept, executive functioning, and problem behaviours in children with ASDs.

Methods:  Five children with ASD participated in the 7 week Paws b program (6 lessons and 1 booster class). The participants of this study were all boys with ASD (M = 8 years, 3. 4 months, Range = 6 years 10 months- 10 years). Two of the five children had comorbid diagnoses and were the only two participants on medication.

Children completed the Beck Youth Inventory as a measure of Self-Concept. Parents completed the parent versions of both the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS), which assesses Social Skills and Problem Behaviours, and the Behaviour Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF), which assesses Executive Functioning Skills. All data was compared using paired sample t-tests, and effect sizes were calculated for all results to indicate practical significance.

Results: Parent reports for Social Skills showed a significant increase following Paws b training, and children reported a significant increase in their Self-Concept following Paws b. While not statistically significant, improvement trends were noted in the areas of Executive Functioning or Problem Behaviours.

Conclusions:  The results of this study indicate that Paws b shows promise to improve social skills and self-concept in children with ASD. Though there were no statistically significant improvements in the other measured variables, the subscales trended in the expected direction will be valuable resources for informing future research directions. The results of this study indicate that improvement trends may have been affected by the short program duration, which suggests that a longer program may result in noticeable improvements in more areas. However, effect size calculations indicate that some of the changes, while not statistically significant, were practically significant changes for the participants.